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The cormorant fisherman in Ukai, in a woodblock print by Tsukioka Kôgyô (1920s), from his series "One Hundred Noh Plays." Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

Ukai ("Cormorant Fisherman") is a Noh play written originally by Enami Saemon Gorô and significantly revised by Zeami.

The play centers around the ghost of a cormorant fisherman (mae-shite) who was killed when attempting to fish in waters where it was prohibited; he now languishes in hell due to his sinful trade, which violates the Buddhist prohibitions on the taking of lives. The ghost offers lodging to the traveling monk Nichiren[1] (founder of Nichiren Buddhism, here portrayed by the waki actor), and asks Nichiren to pray for his release from hell.

The play is unusual in that the shite actor plays different roles in the first and second acts, whereas in many other plays, the shite role is the same character throughout, albeit quite often in disguise in the first act, only revealing his/her true identity in the second act. Here, in the second act the shite actor no longer plays the fisherman's ghost, but a hell demon sent to pardon the fisherman and aid him in obtaining salvation, as a result of his show of kindness to the monk.


  • Shelley Fenno Quinn, Developing Zeami, University of Hawaii Press (2005), 72.
  1. "Tsukioka Kôgyô, Selected Works from the Series 'One Hundred Noh Plays,'" Gallery labels, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Feb 2014.